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The Britannic Organ Volume 8: Max Reger
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Track listing below review
Joseph Messner (organ) played on Welte Roll
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 847 [69:38 + 69:44]

As before in this series there can be nothing but praise for the presentation of these discs. In a gatefold album the 68-page booklet nestles protected by stout card and plastic. In three languages (German, English and French) and graced by some beautifully reproduced photographs and some helpful tabulations, little expense has been spared to present the Welte organ rolls in the best possible light with relevant background information and a raft of specifications and helpful biographical notes. I remain deeply impressed, as throughout this series, with the dedication, thoroughness and care with which the eight volumes, thus far, have been prepared.

Each one focuses on a particular composer or cluster of performers, or exemplifies a characteristic of the Welte oeuvre. This one gets to grips with Max Reger. The first disc presents Reger playing his own works on roll, whilst the second disc explores the Reger roll recordings of four eminent German organists. Reger hadn’t played the organ for five years before he made his sixteen rolls in c. May 1913. He didn’t touch his larger-scale and more virtuosic works; they remained the preserve on roll of the professional organists presented on the second disc. He preferred lighter, more compact pieces such as didn’t stretch his technique too far. This is the first complete presentation of all 16 rolls and considerable work has gone on in respect of correct speeds to present them in the best light, and sound. Playback speed of Welte rolls is a vexed one though the case is made with care here, that all has been done to adjust the speeds to the most plausible one. What this cannot address, of course, is the interventionist nature of the roll system ab initio. That said, they sound better, as artefacts, than Reger’s rolls have ever sounded before. They are not recordings however - despite the imperfections in that system - and whilst they offer clues as to performance practice these rolls are not gospel, and should be seen in a cautious light.

There is a slightly hesitant quality to Reger’s own playing at points though it seems to solidify as the sequence developed. Rhythms however sound fatally stiff at too many moments and the roll’s metricality may be seen to contribute to the lumpy phrasing – or maybe Reger contributed? – to a serious extent. That said, if they are seen in the proper context of a system inherently and explicitly concerned with post-editing, then they can be studied for the myriad clues they may give as to the way in which Reger took his own music or expected others to take it.

Later organists proved far more ambitious in their rolls from around 1924. GŁnter Ramin, well-known for his Leipzig music-making and for his exploration of early music, recorded the Toccata and Fugue in D minor on disc in 1951 but this roll precedes that 78 by almost three decades. The use of the harfe (bells) is striking and simultaneously odd here, but the sound generated is genuinely grand. Kurt Grosse plays two of the fantasies. He clearly had a sizeable technique and achieved the cultivation of tremendous colour – full marks to the playback, too. These are by a long way the longest rolls, clocking in at 22 and 19 minutes in length. Walter Fischer was born in 1872, and was thus a contemporary of Reger. He too recorded on 78s, dying in 1931. He is represented by the Kyrie eleison and Gloria in excelsis, which generate plenty of contrasts. Joseph Messner plays the brief Romanze in A minor.

Much will always be taken on trust with rolls of piano or organ music, but this series is setting a high standard of reproduction and analysis.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing
Fugue in G major, Op.56 No.3 [6:19]
Benedictus Op.59 No.9 [5:34]
Melodia Op.59 No.11 [6:36]
Canzone in E flat major, Op.65 No.9 [7:18]
Jesus mein Zuversicht, Op.67 No.20 [2:22]
Lobt Gott, ihr Christen alle gleiche, Op.67 No.23 [1:30]
Mach’s mit mir, Gott nach deiner GŁt’, Op.67 No.25 [2:58]
O Welt, ich muss dich lassen, Op.67 No.33 [3:23]
Wer nur den lieben Gott last walten, Op.67 No.45 [2:29]
Wie wohl ist mir,o Freund der Seelen, Op,67 No.50 [2:42]
Oh, wie selig seid ihr doch, Op.67 No.52 [1:51]
Moment musical, Op.69 No.4 [6:04]
Romanze, Op.80 No.8 [4:37]
Ave Maria, Op.80 No.5 [5:32]
Praeludium, Op.85 No.3 [6:44]
Basso Ostinato (from the Suite in G mainor), Op.92 No.4 [3:32]
Max Reger (organ) played on Welte Rolls
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Op.129 [9:59]
GŁnter Ramin (organ) played on Welte Roll
Fantasie for organ; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Op.52 No.2 [21:51]
Fnatasie and Fugue on B-A-C-H, Op.46 [19:25]
Kurt Grosse (organ) played on Welte Rolls
Kyrie eleison, Op.59 No.7 [6:56]
Gloria in excelsis, Op.59 Mo.8 [6:30]
Walter Fischer (organ) played on Welte Rolls
Romanze in A minor [5:00]